I never saw The Producers on Broadway, but I am a fan of the original film. The story, having made the transition from screen to stage and back again, has stayed basically the same: a washed up Broadyway producer, Max Bialystock, joins forces with a neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom, in a money-making scheme that hinges on producing a flop. The original film featured solid performances by Zero Mostel as Bialystock and a wonderfully unhinged Gene Wilder as the neurotic Bloom. In both the play and the new film, Mostel and Wilder have been replaced by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, a pairing that has forced me to string together a series of words that violate the very physical laws that hold the universe together--Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder seem subtle and nuanced by comparison.
Everything about the latest film is broad in the worst possible sense, from high concept musical numbers featuring choreographed old ladies with walkers to the patently obnoxious trotting out of every imaginable stereotype in the cringe-inducingly titled "Keep It Gay." Broderick and Lane seem completely oblivious to the fact that they're not playing to the back row anymore, and every raised eyebrow, every exaggerated expression, every screamed line, feels forced and overblown. I tired of their schtick about ten minutes in, and was exhausted after only twenty.
Which brings me to the second problem...what was a relatively tight 88 minutes in its original form has here been padded to an excruciating 134, and little if any of the new material adds anything at all. The updating that has taken place pretty much destroys what economy and subtlety the original film might have had (the game Bialystock plays with Hold Me Touch Me has gone from "The Milk Maid and the Naughty Stableboy" to "The Virgin Milk Maid and the Well-Hung Stableboy"). What existed as allusion originally has here been made explicit to the point of wincing.
Part of the blame for this has to fall on director Susan Stroman (who also directed the play). Stroman directs The Producers more as a filmed play rather than a true adaptation, with only a few obvious attempts to "open up" that fail to break the claustrophobic monotony of the film's otherwise closed sets. As if Lane & Broderick's schtick weren't obnoxious enough, the film surrounds them with a cloying stageyness that further saps the material of whatever humor it might have once had.
I watched the original when I got home, more out of curiosity than anything else, and I was struck by how the same line of dialogue delivered by Wilder or Mostel could make me laugh, while in the hammy hands of Broderick or Lane, it only made me groan. Excessive in nearly every possible way, none of them good, The Producers 2005 is best avoided, especially with the original widely available on DVD.
©2005 Ed Owens